Newport News airport director updates business community on efforts to attract flights

Executive Director Michael Giardino said he’s going to be doggedly persistent in keeping the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport on the minds of airline executives.

“We’re in competition — fierce competition,” Giardino said.

Giardino shared the pitch he makes to airlines with attendees of the Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce’s “Spotlight on the Peninsula” event Friday afternoon and told them he welcomed critiques and suggestions.

Delta and American Airlines are going strong, Giardino said. He said he’s been in talks with United to attract flights and even reached out to Southwest Airlines, although there’s been no formal meeting. Giardino came to the Peninsula Airport Commission after working as aviation director for the Greater Rochester International Airport, and is using his established relationships to set up meetings and make pitches.

Several attendees wanted a direct flight connection to Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., and Giardino said it was an ongoing target for the airport. The airport is focused on growing business traveler traffic and so is looking to connect to hubs where employers need to go.

When Southwest acquired AirTran in 2011 and pulled Newport News’ dominant carrier service in 2012, it wasn’t because people weren’t flying from the Peninsula airport — it was simply a Southwest business decision, Giardino said.

The problem in pitching to airlines, is that without the flights to show passengers flying from Newport News, it seems to outsiders that the demand isn’t there. Peninsula travelers didn’t stop flying, and are driving not only to Norfolk and Richmond to get the flights they need, but also to Washington, D.C., and Raleigh, N.C., Giardino said.

“It’s not because people don't want to travel and fly out of here and use this airport — it’s because we don’t have the flights they want,” Giardino said.

The airlines may have trained Peninsula travelers to drive to neighboring airports, but they have an opportunity to satisfy customers who haven’t been happy, particularly if the Norfolk airport experiences problems, he explained.

Also on Giardino’s radar is trying to get more affordable and more General Services Administration contract fares for federal government and military travelers, he said. A slide in his presentation showed the federal government in 2018 awarded 83 GSA fares at the Newport News airport — compared with 226 at Norfolk International Airport — and that Newport News lacks GSA fares to 10 of its top 50 markets.

When federal employees look up fares in the database, Newport News fares are two to four times the amount of the Norfolk and Richmond airports, he said. He’d like something more fair, particularly because the Peninsula is home to so many federal travelers.

Attendee Wayne Futrell of Newport News asked what citizens could do to help.

“I just want it to be a viable airport — simple as that,” Futrell said.

Giardino answered that residents should let airport leaders know if they’re unhappy and why, particularly if they need to drive instead of fly. Marketing director Jessica Wharton said residents could let the airlines know they wished they could have flown from Newport News on social media.

Attendee and commercial real estate agent Michael Shapiro said the problem is it used to cost more to fly direct, but now it’s costing more to be inconvenienced with multiple connections.

Attendee Frank Richardson Jr. said he was surprised to learn about the GSA rates, but believes the airport is positioned to explode with traffic, particularly with a link to Dulles.

Debra Fowlkes of York County said she would prefer to fly from PHF but can’t get the connections she needs either at the right price or time of day to get to her destinations.

“They should have D.C. direct flights back and forth,” Fowlkes said.

Tara Bozick, 757-247-4741,, @TidewaterBiz. Sign up for a free weekday business news email at

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